U.K. Officials Short of Resources to Deliver Brexit, Report Says

  • Civil servants in dark over government direction and strategy
  • Premier May needs to take lead, Institute for Government says

Civil servants need more information, resources and direction if they are to ensure the British government is ready for its departure from the European Union, a report by the Institute for Government said on Wednesday.

There needs to be guidance from Prime Minister Theresa May to enable officials to effectively support negotiations to leave the bloc, which are due to start with the triggering of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty by the end of March, the report said. While some departments are engaged with preparing structures and regulatory organization for life outside the EU, others are not and need more clarity on what will be required.

“We are rapidly approaching the triggering of Article 50, but our research shows that the civil service still doesn’t have what it needs -- in terms of money, staff and information -- to enable politicians to get the best deal for the country,” Director of Research Hannah White said in an e-mailed statement. “This is not about revealing whether we are heading towards a hard, soft or gray Brexit. This is about being ready for the negotiations, and getting ready for life after Brexit. We know the civil service has the skill to do this, now it needs clear direction.”

The report, based on talks with civil servants and organizations outside government, said departments are facing tension between existing commitments to cost-cutting and the need to have resources and staff available to deal with the demands of Brexit. The lack of information from May’s office means they do not know which aspects of their work are likely to be part of the negotiation and which can be resolved after Britain leaves the EU.

“The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ budget is 17 percent smaller now than it was in 2010, and will be almost 35 percent smaller by March 2019; for the Home Office, these figures are 16 percent and 21 percent, respectively,” the report said, citing two departments likely to be most affected by leaving the EU. “If the government does not clearly set out its priorities, there is a risk that the civil service will fail either to deliver existing commitments or to plan properly for Brexit and life afterwards.”

The challenge of preparing for post-Brexit governance is being made more difficult by confusion over the extent to which Britain will need to set up its own structures after the passing of a proposed “Great Repeal Bill” to enshrine EU rules into U.K. law, the report said.

Departments “need to look beyond the legislation to understand the systems and institutions that might be required, from regulatory bodies to customs regimes, as well as the opportunities to reform unwieldy regulation or policy,” the report said. “We found that some departments are proactively doing this forward planning and are looking at what day one outside of the EU might look like. But other departments are more reactive and focused on responding to requests. A failure to plan for the challenges and opportunities of a post-Brexit world now will lead to delay further down the line.”

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